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Parallels in parenting

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Why are Indian children hooked to Japanese manga series on TV despite their simplistic - and rather gauche - storytelling? The answer could lie in the parallels between the parenting styles of the two countries.

As a marker of the popularity of a foreign TV show in India, you probably can't do better than the said country's national head using the names of its characters to appeal for greater cultural ties. But that's what happened a year ago when Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, on a visit to India, invoked Doraemon and Ninja Hattori - two immensely popular characters from Japanese manga series that have been dubbed into Hindi and are aired on Indian children's channels - during a speech.

Doraemon is a robo-cat from the 22nd century who comes to the past to help a pre-teen boy, Nobita Nori. Nobita, who is as well-known a character to urban Indian children today as animated Krishna and Hanuman and even Superman, is a rather spineless boy who's always getting into trouble because of his efforts to cut corners, or is being bullied at school. Doraemon is wiser, and comes with a seemingly unending treasure-trove of cool gadgets, which he draws from a secret pocket to help the hapless Nobita.

For six-year-old Ananya Ahmed, Doraemon is the go-to show for the (extendable) hour of television she is allowed to watch on any given day. She used to be a fan of shows like Tom & Jerry but finds it too childish now;at one point, she would avidly watch MAD on Pogo, but that's also passê. Not only does she watch Doraemon obsessively, she badgers her parents into buying her Doraemon merchandise like stickers, bags, pencil boxes, pens and figurines. "I like that Doraemon gets gadgets which are very cool. Nobita tells lies and does bad things but Doraemon saves him. Doraemon is frightened of rats, which is very funny, " is her expert - and accurate - summation of the show. In her Bangalore apartment complex, Doraemon theme parties have overtaken Chhota Bheem parties in popularity. Recently, at one of her friends' birthday parties, the cake was shaped like the cuddly robotic cat.

TAM ratings from April 2012 reveal Doraemon was leading kids programming on Indian TV with an average TVR of 0. 56, while Pogo's Chhota Bheem was at No 2 at that time with an average TVR of 0. 48. The movie Doraemon In Nobita And The Steel Troops rated 4. 4 (TAM ratings for 4-14 age group for Sunday, May 6, 2012), making it the highest-rated movie of the year on a kids' TV channel. Doraemon is far and away the most viewed show on Disney, which airs it for an average of four to six hours every day. Sister channel Hungama, which also telecasts other Japanese shows Shin-Chan, Luckyman and Chimpui, devotes an average of two hours of programming every day to Doraemon.

While other imported Japanese shows such as Ninja Hattori, Shin-Chan and Hagemaru don't quite enjoy the stupendous popularity of Doraemon, they are still more popular than many home-grown series on Indian kids' television or Western shows.
"One reason could be that Japan is culturally closer to India than the West, and these shows highlight some of the values that are drilled into Indian children - the importance of hard work, the need to finish homework on time, respect for and care of the elderly and so on, " reasons Aparna Sharma, a 35-year-old mother of two children aged 8 and 5, both of whom are fans of these shows.

"Doraemon has a universal appeal across kids and their families. The show focuses on concepts that an Indian kid can relate to, such as friendships, listening to parents, school and playtime. Even something as basic as school uniforms are extremely relatable, " agrees Arnab Chaudhuri, chief creative officer, kids network, Disney UTV.

For Mumbai-based Kiran Manral, author of the book The Reluctant Detective and a popular blogger who often writes about bringing up her nine-year-old son Krish, the shows - though mostly set in 1980s Japan - represent a reality that's closer to that of urban Indian children today than mythological shows and series set in rural India. Most of the characters in these shows live in apartment blocks or row houses, agonise over homework and have problems with their friends and peers, points out Manral.

"Also, these shows are less sanitised than Indian ones, which always have a clear black-and-white image of the world. In these shows, the protagonist is not always a heroic character, and kids are shown talking back to parents, " says Manral. "Now, we may or may not like that, but it's true that this generation of kids is far more direct in its interaction with parents. "

One show that Manral endorses, but which finds little support from other parents, is Shin-Chan, which was well on its way to attaining Doraemonlike popularity but slid down the ratings when complaints against it were filed with the ministry of information and broadcasting. The ministry temporarily banned the show.

Parent bodies complained that the show often showed the young boy, Shin-Chan, abusing his mother by calling her things like 'bacche churane wali moti budhiya'. She was portrayed as a somewhat vain woman obsessed with weightloss while the father was borderline alcoholic. Shin-Chan also probably embarrassed Indian parents by repeatedly falling in love with older women, whom he'd attempt to woo in a ludicrous fashion. "Most parents will kill me for saying this, but I don't think Shin-Chan is that bad. I'd rather my son watched that than Indian shows like Hero Bhakti Hi Shakti Hai, which features an adult portraying an unconvincing superhero and using all kinds of mumbo-jumbo to get out of tricky situations, " says Manral. Chaitali Sarkar, a Bangalorebased entrepreneur who recently launched parenting website Ma-Buzz. com, feels Doraemon is guilty of portraying wrong values in children like her fouryear-old daughter. "In the show, Nobita is always behaving foolishly and getting into trouble and then being rescued by this super cat with some cool gadget. I feel this gives children an entirely wrong idea of the real world, where you have to get yourself out of trouble using your brains and courage, " says Sarkar, who has curtailed Doraemon-time for her daughter.

Many parents acknowledge that the low-quality, high-pitched dubbing of the shows perhaps make them more annoying than they are. Some shows, like Pogo's Hagemaru and Nickelodeon's Ninja Hattori, are dubbed in Hindi using stereotypical 'Indian' accents and by mimicking the voices of Hindi film actors like Om Prakash;Doraemon is over-dramatised with fake-sounding groans, gasps, ooohs and aahs, which occur much too frequently and are often out of step with the storyline.

Nevertheless, Japanese shows aren't going anywhere in a hurry. "My guess is what we're seeing in India now is barely 2 per cent of the total Japanese content that can be imported here, " says Jatin Varma, founder, Comic Con India. At the recent Comic Con Express in Bangalore, there were more children under 10 interested in interacting with Ninja Hattori - brought by Nickelodeon as a promotional feature - than anything else, affirms Varma.

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